Wednesday, July 7, 2010

D'Light: "This is why people like us don't get valet"

A mob scene greeted us as we exited the front doors of the theater. In any other circumstance we would have quickly mapped and traveled the most efficient path away from the crowd, but the sad truth is that Dan and I belonged with them. We were all waiting for our valet parked cars.

A couple weeks ago, Dan and I scored free tickets to Enana, a Middle Eastern dance show at the Max M. Fisher Music Center. Our friend M, who is the community manager for Yelp (a website where Dan and I write snide, know-it-all reviews for local businesses) was the source of said tickets, and she suggested we meet at Atlas Global Bistro for a pre-theater drink. As we were finishing our wine and overpriced appetizers, M reached into an envelope and said, "I've got fancy tickets for you guys. Do you want valet, too?"

Dan and I looked at each other. We were parked across the street, just a four block walk from the Max, but how could we turn down this deluxe freebie? It would be like abstaining from an open bar at a rich person's wedding. "Uh... yeah, sure!". We happily snatched the voucher and made our way to the theater.

But as we stood in that increasingly testy crowd outside the Max, the idea of being able to walk to the car and leave at our leisure seemed way more appealing. In the midst of the throng, an irate customer whined at the others, "There's a line. There's a line. There's a line." There was no line. There wasn't even room for a line. It looked as if half the crowd (about 500 people, I would estimate) had opted for valet, and everyone was set on being first served. This was reminding me way too much of air travel. Fortunately, Dan and I had the same instincts. We made our way to the nearest bench and silently agreed to patiently wait out the mob.

We considered walking two blocks north to Union Street to get a drink, but that seemed silly. It wouldn't take that long, right? But even after ten minutes, the situation didn't appear to be getting better. It was all so absurd. The scariest thing about walking around midtown Detroit after dark is that there just aren't that many people around. If half of the valeted car owners had just parked in the hundreds of open spaces surrounding the theater, the departing crowds would have created the sort of "safety in numbers" critical mass needed to overcome the collective fear of walking at night in Detroit. Instead, there was this swarm of frustrated rich people standing still on one block of Woodward Avenue.

Eventually, we gave up and headed to Union Street where the service was typically poky but cordial. As we waited (comfortably) for our drinks, I glanced at the large-for-a-Tuesday crowd in the dining room. I like Union Street, because it isn't all white people or black people or young people. It was a diverse group, including families and older people and some very well-dressed Arab ladies who had probably just attended Enana, as well. But then some pleasant odors distracted me from my people-watching and I found myself fixating on the large oval trays of food floating past our table.

"Why does the food smell especially good tonight?" I wondered.

"It's probably the smoking ban. You can actually smell it now."

I pored over the giant menu and so did Dan, but then I hesitated. "We shouldn't order food. We need to get back to the theater soon."

"Whatever. It's going to take forever to get the car. We should just order what we want and take our time."

This is a perfect example of a situation where Dan and I don't see eye to eye. I get very nervous and worrisome about logistics and timing. He does not. Sometimes this leads to bickering, but I wasn't in the mood for that. At the same time, I was definitely in the mood for a snack. I very consciously chose to set aside my usual concerns ("What if we make the valet guys mad?") and just go with the flow. I even suggested that Dan pick the entree we would split.

I wasn't disappointed - a buffalo burger with a side of potato salad. Our total bill was a third of what we spent at Atlas and the portions were way bigger. Tasted just as good, too.

After we paid our bill and left a good tip for our not so great (but nice) waitress, we wandered out to Woodward in a happy daze. I was telling Dan something about work when he interrupted me. "Shit!"

My first instinct was to be annoyed because he wasn't listening. My second was to move into comfort mode, because I realized that he was actually upset about something. "Don't worry. It's going to be fine." Sometimes I say "Don't worry. It's going to be fine," before I fully assess the situation, which is not always wise.

"How can you say it's fine? They're gone." That's when I finally realized that the crowd and the valet guys had disappeared. Shit.

I was nevertheless cool. I didn't know how I'd come by this bout of mellowness, but I was determined to ride the wave. "It'll be fine, Dan. They probably gave your keys to the house manager. I'm sure there's still someone at the theater." When we tried each of the front doors and found every one locked, I could tell that I wasn't winning this one. I could feel Dan panicking.

We had no other choice but to begin searching for the car. We turned around and started heading back up Woodward when a young man in a silver car stopped in the middle of the road and yelled out his open window, "Hey, you looking for your car?" I could guess from his white uniform shirt that he was one of the valet guys.

Dan shouted, "Yes!"

"Go to the back and ask for BJ. He's got your keys." We thanked him before he drove away and I remember thinking how nice he was considering that he must have thought we were complete idiots. I had realized by this point it was about 11:45 and the dance show had ended over two hours ago.

We rounded the corner toward the small parking lot behind the building and delighted to see our little Sunfire parked in the corner. We turned down the alley toward the rear entrance and saw a stocky man walking away from us.

Dan called to him, "BJ! Hey, BJ!" The man glanced over his shoulder and quickened his pace. Not BJ, apparently. By this point I had instinctively reached into my purse and grabbed my keys. Even if BJ was gone, we could still get out of there.

Fortunately, the back entrance was open and there were two security guards sitting at the front desk. For lack of better descriptors, one dude was black and the other one was white.

The white guy had a dour expression. Dan said to him, "Are you BJ?"

"No. Are you the guy with the Pontiac Sunfire?" Dan nodded and the black guy started cracking up. The white guy was not amused. "Where were you?" Oh boy, this was turning into the exact type of situation I try to avoid by way of worry and logistics. There's nothing I hate more than someone thinking I'm stupid, especially when they have a good reason.

"It was taking so long, so we went to get a drink," Dan began. "I'm looking for BJ, the valet guy."

The white guy was even more pissy. "BJ is not the valet guy, but he does have your keys. We'll call him." The black guy laughed some more as he punched numbers into a phone. I was feeling like the white guy was about to lecture us, so I decided to make my escape.

"I'm gonna wait outside." Dan nodded and I pushed my way out the glass doors as quickly as I could. I took a deep breath of the warm, late evening air and felt relieved - for the sight of our little white car, and for BJ having Dan's keys, and for being away from the irritated white guy. And then it occurred to me that this well-lit alley (my haven of relief) would seem to be a very scary place for anyone who fears Detroit thoroughly. Granted, I fear Detroit, too, but I also have the sense to recognize degrees of danger. I wouldn't head out to Woodward and just start walking on my own (but if I had to, I would feel better being on that street than one of the side roads). I remember trying to explain this to my Swedish ex-boyfriend's parents. They were floored when I said, "There are some places in Detroit where I would walk around by myself in the day but never at night." They thought that was the most screwed up description of a city they had ever heard and they felt sorry for Americans because we are forced to analyze our dangerous cities this way. Oh, well. I'd rather have the analytical skills than never hang out in cities.

A moment later, Dan joined me, the coveted keys jingling in his hand. Once we were settled in the car, we cracked up.

"Dan, can you imagine what that guy was thinking when you were chasing him down the alley, yelling, 'Hey, BJ!'"

He laughed even harder. "Wow, that would have really sucked if we had lost our car. I seriously thought they would still be out there by the time we got back."

"Yeah. I don't know how this shit works. What a ridiculous situation. This is why people like us don't get valet."

We motored up Woodward to Ferndale and spent the next couple hours singing karaoke in a bar with four other people. It was a pretty great night.


  1. This is a such a great post! How true to Detroit. I love that you guys wanted to follow your own schedule rather than having to wait for valet to get your car. And although I am all too familiar with Detroit, your description of Woodward and Cass are perfect and gloriously vivid. I can smell the sewage gas and feel the warm thick air. Thank you Tara!

  2. Aw, thanks Meredith! I'm going to be back in the D one last time tomorrow (last for now, not forever, of course). I will love that city forever : )